Congress to probe ‘US funding of Taliban’

By Daniel Tencer
Thursday, December 17, 2009 19:10 EDT
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US may be ‘unintentionally involved in vast protection racket’: Tierney

Troop surge could backfire if it means more cash for insurgents

A House committee has launched an investigation into claims that US military contractors in Afghanistan are paying the Taliban to guarantee the safety of their transportation convoys, an allegation that could mean American taxpayers are indirectly funding the insurgency that has killed more than 900 American soldiers so far.

“Serious allegations have been [made] that private security providers for US transportation contractors in Afghanistan are regularly paying local warlords and the Taliban for security,” said Rep. John Tierney (D-MA), chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs. “After a preliminary inquiry, it has been determined these reports warrant a full-scale subcommittee investigation.”

Tierney said that if the allegations are proven to be true, “it would mean that the United States is unintentionally engaged in a vast protection racket and, as such, may be indirectly funding the very insurgents we are trying to fight.”

Allegations that contractors are resorting to bribing insurgents to guarantee their safety first came to light in an article in The Nation last month. Aram Roston reported:

Welcome to the wartime contracting bazaar in Afghanistan. It is a virtual carnival of improbable characters and shady connections, with former CIA officials and ex-military officers joining hands with former Taliban and mujahedeen to collect US government funds in the name of the war effort.

In this grotesque carnival, the US military’s contractors are forced to pay suspected insurgents to protect American supply routes. It is an accepted fact of the military logistics operation in Afghanistan that the US government funds the very forces American troops are fighting. And it is a deadly irony, because these funds add up to a huge amount of money for the Taliban.

“It’s a big part of their income,” one of the top Afghan government security officials told The Nation in an interview. In fact, US military officials in Kabul estimate that a minimum of 10 percent of the Pentagon’s logistics contracts–hundreds of millions of dollars–consists of payments to insurgents.

Several days after the Nation report, the Financial Times reported that “Taliban fighters have turned NATO’s huge logistics chain into a big source of funds by extorting money from hauliers and kidnapping their drivers for ransom, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, the companies say.”

The FT said the bribery problem is adding to a growing “war economy” in Afghanistan, and may in fact cause President Obama’s Afghan troop surge to backfire because it will give insurgents more targets for extortion:

The militants’ ability to prey on supply lines on both sides of the border shows how the Afghan conflict fuels a self-sustaining war economy in which the boundaries between insurgency, organised crime and banditry are blurred.

Although the amount gleaned from transporters is smaller than the Taliban’s multi-million-dollar income from the opium trade and donations from supporters in Gulf states, any big increase in US troop numbers will provide more convoys to target. “The more trucks there are, and the more roads that are in use, the more opportunities there are for extortion,” a US official said.

The House subcommittee has requested documents from the Pentagon and from eight principal contractors involved in the Host Nation Trucking program, a $2.1-billion initiative that coordinates US military supply lines in Afghanistan, allowing for the shipping of everything from food and water to fuel and ammunition.

A number of progressive activists and politicians have pointed to the allegations of bribery as a sign that the war effort in Afghanistan is misguided. Last week, House Rep. Dennis Kucinich described the alleged schemes as a “racket.”

“US contractors are paying US tax dollars to the Taliban in order to protect the delivery of US shipments of US goods to US soldiers so that our soldiers can fight the Taliban,” Kucinich said, starkly illustrating the implications of the bribery claims.

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